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Akin Gives Democrats an Edge In the Fight For Control of Senate

Last night, PPP released a survey showing Akin leading McCaskill by one point in Missouri. Even if that was true yesterday, I doubt it will be true next week. And that probably makes Democrats favored to maintain control of the Senate. 

Review the timeline here: while most enjoy their Sunday afternoon, the political world learns that Akin has made astonishing comments about “legitimate rape.” On Monday, PPP starts polling Missouri and concludes their survey by the end of the day. What percentage of respondents had heard about the controversy? And even among those who had heard, did they hear the clip? Catch a quick article online? Hear from a friend? If you’re constantly on twitter and engaged in politics, it’s easy to forget that the overwhelming majority of Americans don’t learn about gaffes in real time. That’s especially true when repetition, the duration of the controversy, coming advertisements, and the GOP effort to throw Akin under the bus are sure to reinforce Akin's negatives. As a result, it would be wise to give the news time to settle before declaring the race unchanged. 

For what it's worth, I actually didn't think that the comments alone were sufficient to ensure Akin’s defeat. Missouri is not Colorado: this is a conservative state that requires Democrats to win conservative, culturally southern, rural voters to prevail statewide: In 2006, McCaskill won by just 2 points while carrying 18 of these rural counties. St. Louis and Kansas City are large enough to keep the state deceptively close, but even big Democratic margins in the two metropolitan areas just aren't sufficient to win the state. In a sense, Missouri is the Republican version of Pennsylvania—St. Louis and Kansas City with Alabama in between. But unlike the larger Philadelphia and Pittsburgh metropolitan areas, St. Louis and Kansas City alone can't overcome Alabama. Put differently, for these comments alone to cost Akin the state, they needed to do quite a bit of damage in culturally conservative areas, and it's an open question whether they would do so, especially since they could turn the race into a culture war referendum. 

Turning the Missouri Senate race into a Buck-Bennett redux was hardly prohibitive for Akin’s chances. That said, the concerted GOP effort to throw Akin under the bus does make McCaskill the favorite. She’ll be able to air advertisements quoting Republican leaders effectively suggesting his unfit for office—even if they meant he was unfit to campaign. And the “legitimate rape” comments are the tip of the iceberg with this guy, so I suspect the McCaskill campaign will be able to persuade enough independent voters to prevail statewide—even if the state’s politics prevent the blowout that many seem to suspect. 

If Missouri, in fact, does move into the Democratic-column, then Democrats become favorites to maintain control of a closely divided Senate. Democrats are probably favored to hold at least 47 Senate seats (counting King and Sanders toward the Democrats) and Missouri would make 48. From there, Democrats would only need two to secure a majority if Obama wins reelection, or three just to be sure. With no side holding a decided advantage in Florida, Massachusetts, Virginia, Wisconsin, Montana, and Nevada (I think I’m in the minority on that one) and Obama favored to win reelection, it’s now a better bet (even if just slightly) that a majority of senators will caucus with Harry Reid than Mitch McConnell next January.